Science and History of Interactive Equine Bodywork
How and Why I got started working on Horses
I started out as a massage therapist for people, beginning my education about massage just out of high school. I continued on with it several years later and added some courses in needleless acupuncture and then went to school to become a veterinary assistant.
A few years after moving to Prescott, I opened my own business doing bodywork with horses, dogs and cats, using acupressure.
I looked at the DVDs that were available for my industry as well as read books about the leading styles of body work. After going through a period of trying to sort out the contradictions of styles and beliefs, I decided to put together my own style and find books and information that helped me advance in my own theories about how horses carry their tension.
Healing horses through touch
There are several ways to work with a horse to achieve relaxation, I decided to work through the nervous system using a lighter form of acupressure and gain their trust that way. Once I had their trust, then I felt that I could work at a much deeper level going into the muscular system through the layers of muscle until we reached the point that they were finally able to release the layer where they originally started to store their tension, and keep those muscles released with greater ease for longer periods of time.
I will include some of the books that I have read here, some of the diagrams that I work with to customize a session for an animal. If I find that the way I generally start out working with a horse is not getting to the level of relaxation that I want, then I will go back through my tools and find another way to approach that particular horses way of carrying tension so that we can release the patterns and habits they move by.
Horses deal with tension through the fight, flight or freeze response, I work with the horse to send another signal to the muscle once that situation is over with. It can be an accident, a training learning curve, what appears to be an attitude problem or even muscle tension due to a conformation issue. All of that will be stored in the soft tissue and can be released.
I work with horses the most frequently and so that is what will predominantly be on these pages, however it does transfer to dogs and cats as well.
References and Study Materials
Here, in an article about the horses body language from Equus Magazine,the writer describes in detail about some basic cues that every horse is likely to show due to different stimuli in their atmosphere. It is mostly through those cues that I will work to get them to identify and release any long-held tension patterns or habits within their body and become more at ease and aware of their circulation throughout their body during different circumstances. I have found that a horse that cannot completely feel their limb, or their face, will most likely exhibit an uncharacteristic behavior that results in some discipline to curb or halt that unwelcome behavior which results in more tension and stress for the horse. I like the way she addresses that in this article as well. I use a lot of the cues mentioned to customize my sessions for your horse, as we discover where they hold their tension and how to release it.
I am currently reading a book titled, “The Polyvagal Theory” by Stephen W. Porges. It is one of the books that I find fascinating if not for understanding the horses behavior that may not be evident then certainly for understanding the owners, trainers, or even past owners influence on how the body has stored it’s fight, flight or freeze memories within the muscular tissue. I like to use analogies to describe to the owners what it might feel like for the horse as they hold their tension due to current or past situations they have interpreted as stressful. It is also a way for me to understand those pathways to release the tension following the nervous system and how it works. I think it is incredibly fascinating how our bodies protect us and allow us to continue to function.
This is another book that I am making my way through, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. In an effort to better understand how the horse and owner, or rider, communicate through their nervous systems, what the blockages may be on either side, what the circumnavigation may be due to tension or stress habits, and triggers, in the horse and the human. Someone who has been stepped on will approach and tense up when a horse moves during fight, flight or freeze and that will result in a signal sent through the nervous system to adapt to that situation. A person who is feeling vulnerable in their own life due to the stress of an injury or surgery, will carry themselves differently when they ride then someone who has not had that experience, causing the horse to accommodate with certain muscles and a signal coming from the brain to those muscles in the range of motion or use that is available for use. If I can work through some of that during a session for the horse, I feel that it not only results in a greater ease in communication between the rider and the horse in the long run, but it allows the horse to come up with a different equation as they do their bodily inventory during the fight, flight or freeze assessment due to stress.